One day in April 2003, as a marine reservist deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Jay Rodne and the unit he helps command were moving through a small village about 60 miles south of Baghdad.
“This was before the insurgency, so a lot people would come up and greet us,” Rodne remembers. “We were seen as liberators at that time, not occupiers.”
A woman approached Rodne and his comrades. In broken English, she thanked them for giving her children the opportunity to live in freedom. That’s when Rodne, already a member of the Snoqualmie City Council, knew he wanted to become more involved in government when he got back home to Washington State.
“It might sound kind of trite, but I wanted to make sure my kids had that same sense of optimism and that same opportunity to better themselves,” he says. “And that takes people willing to sacrifice in public service to make things better.”
Rodne has been trying “to make things better” for his constituents in Washington’s 5th Legislative District—comprising North Bend, Snoqualmie, Issaquah, and parts of unincorporated King County—since he was appointed to former representative Cheryl Pflug’s seat in January 2004. He was re-elected to the office the following November.
The one-time Thomas More Scholar and executive editor of the Gonzaga Law Review likens his first 18 months in office to “earning a graduate degree in government.” As assistant floor leader, one of seven elected leadership positions in the Republican caucus, Rodne was part of the team that crafts strategy for amendments and floor debate.
As assistant ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rodne was also central to the passage of two pieces of legislation—one providing state funding for county and municipal courts, the other providing funding for indigent defense.
“I was really concerned about these bills because I thought they weren’t going to be well-received by my caucus for a lot of different reasons. It was a process of really working with members on an informal basis and talking with them about our constitutional obligation to provide defense for the criminally accused. Plus, we heard from lot of counties that were absolutely struggling to provide funding for local courts.”
Bipartisan support, he notes, was crucial to passage of the bills. So does he find the much-reported rancor between Washington state Democrats and Republicans to be as abundant as media reports claim?
“It’s issue-dependent,” Rodne muses. “When you talk about fiscal or budgetary matters, the willingness to compromise might be less on either side. But I’ve seen how the legislature is really like the practice of law, in that I can go and fight with somebody from the other side all day, and we can go and have dinner afterwards, and it’s not personal in any way. But I do think there are times when people can take it personally, and that’s where some of the emotions and unwillingness to compromise come forward. Also, there’s always the struggle to try to differentiate between parties to show why voters should go with one side or the other. And that’s where some of the partisanship comes in.
“But I think there’s a vast majority of folks down there who understand that to get anything done in
Olympia, you’ve got to compromise and move to the center. If you want to be effective, you really have to form the relationships and the rapport with your own caucus as well as the other side of the aisle to get anything done.”
One measure that was assured a hearty bipartisan endorsement was the resolution Rodne sponsored in 2004 honoring the Gonzaga men’s basketball team for its outstanding undefeated season and third-place national ranking. The tip-of-the-hat to his university was one of the first bills Rodne sponsored.
In addition to serving in the legislature, Rodne is an attorney at Gulliford, McGaughey, & Dunlap PLLC, a five-person Bellevue firm that specializes in insurance defense—a specialty Rodne came to after working in maritime defense law.
“I’ve done plaintiffs’ personal injury work as well, and having seen both sides, I just felt more comfortable defending those who are being sued on whatever basis,” he says.
Asked what led him to practice law in the first place, Rodne—who was an active-duty officer in the Marine Corps between 1989 and 1993—points again to a revelation in an embattled foreign land.
“My experiences in really made me see the importance of living in a society governed by laws and not by the biggest gun,” he says. “Somalia was complete anarchy. A country probably the size of California, with about as many people, living in complete lawlessness. From that experience, I really determined that I wanted to pursue a career in the law and work to foster the rule of law.”
When he’s not in Olympia, meeting with constituents back in his district, or preparing for a trial, Rodne can probably be found at home in Snoqualmie with his wife, Heidi, and their two children. Reflecting on how public service fits into his life, he hazards the words that many a politician has had to eat, and declares that his career as a lawmaker will be short.
“I’m not using this as a springboard. I don’t aspire to higher office. I just think people, given the chance, ought to serve in whatever capacity they can.” Then he adds, laughing, “For a limited time—I need to get back to my law practice!”